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Denton: Carter Understands His Importance

By John Denton
September 28, 2010

ORLANDO Ė Vince Carter is a notorious homebody, so much so that he proudly says heís taken just one vacation in his 12 years as an NBA player and that trip was a short flight to the Bahamas.

This past summer was another offseason in which never strayed too far from his suburban Orlando home. But there was a method to Carterís desire to hang around his Central Florida roots.

Profoundly upset with how he played in the Orlando Magicís defeat to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, Carter was in the gym most of the summer getting himself stronger and better conditioned for what might be his final run at winning a championship ring.

After having shaved almost 4 percent off his Body-Fat-Index and more comfortable in the Magicís system in his second season in Orlando, Carter is hoping to have a revitalized look about himself this season.

``I just want to be better. I worked my butt off this summer just to be ready mentally and physically and Iím ready to go,íí Carter said. ``Iím ready for the challenges of the season.íí

There were also challenges for Carter from GM Otis Smith, head coach Stan Van Gundy and even many of the Magicís players during a 3 Ĺ-hour meeting on Monday before training camp opened for the team on Tuesday. The message was pretty clear: The Magic likely canít vanquish teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Heat and win a championship without Carter playing at a superstar level.

``I accept that. I understand that and itís something that has been in my mind all summer,íí Carter stressed. ``I know itís time for me to be me and I donít have a problem with that.íí

Smith said thatís all well and good, but he wants to see Carter take an aggressive mindset to the court with him this season. Smith and Carter have had several heart-to-heart talks about the veteran shooting guardís need to stay in attack mode. The Magic need Carter to not only get back to the All-Star level that he played at earlier in his career, but also get shots for others. The proof, Smith said, will be how Carter reacts on the floor in tough moments.

``I expect him to be Vince Carter and last year he wasnít. He fell into the trap of trying to fit in. We expect more from him like being aggressive and making plays for himself and others,íí Smith said. ``He has another year under Stan and to get used to our guys, and everyone who has come here has done well in their second year.

``Vince is easy at saying all of the right things, but I donít particularly care what he says,íí Smith continued candidly. ``Iím more interested in what he does once the games start. And his teammates told him the same thing (in Mondayís meeting) that he has to be more aggressive.íí

Carterís first season in Orlando was wildly erratic. He started strong, averaging 19.5 points in November and December. But he endured the worst slump of his career in January by averaging just 8.7 points while shooting only 36.9 percent. He came out of it nicely with a 48-point effort and averaged 18.5 points over the final three months of the regular season.

But in the playoffs, where Carter had a chance to cement his legacy as that of a winner more than just a dunker or scorer, Carter went through more long ineffective lulls. And the low point came in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston when Carter scored just three and eight points in consecutive games. Heís averaged just 13.7 points against the Celtics and saw his playing time slashed because reserve J.J. Redick was the more effective player.

The sting of the Boston lost stayed with Carter for a long time, so much so that he says he still isnít fully over the loss. He was back in the gym two weeks after the loss to the Celtics working on becoming more powerful and explosive.

``Iím not fully over it. You never really get over it until you get the opportunity to get back out there into that situation again,íí Carter said. ``Of course, we were all shocked. We fought so hard to have the second-best record in the league, we had a very capable team and we just didnít get the job done. Thatís where the disappointment lies with our team. Now, we have the opportunity to do something about it. Weíre all fueled and fired up now.íí

Van Gundy, who has made it clear to Carter that the Magic canít afford to have him simply fit in, has taken notice of the work that his soon-to-be 34-year-old shooting guard put in in the offseason. He has said that Carter looks stronger in his legs, thereís a bounce to his step again and heís been willing to attack and make plays for others.

``Everybody just wants him to play the game the way that heís played throughout his entire career. We want him to be an aggressive offensive player looking to score, drawing help and making plays, Van Gundy said.

``Heís our guy,íí Van Gundy continued. ``If you look around at the great perimeter players in the East, Boston has Allen and Pierce, Miami has James and Wade and Atlanta has Joe Johnson. Vince is our guy on the perimeter to score and create shots. Vince has had a great offseason. And being here a second year adds to his comfort level, so weíre expecting big things from him.íí

Carter does as well, and thatís one reason why he stayed in Orlando this summer and rarely missed a week without working out even though those around him told him to distance himself from basketball during the offseason. Carter said what gave him the most peace was knowing that he was working hard to ensure that the season ahead would be a great one for himself and the Magic as well.

``Iím just not a vacation guy and you wonít ever hear of me vacationing in St. Tropez or anything like that,íí Carter said with a laugh. ``My family tells me to get away from (basketball) and I believe in that, but I put in more time this summer because I know itís a long season. I was ready to get back to work and make sure Iím prepared for the season.íí

John Denton writes for E-mail John at